Synthesis for Literature Reviews

An important part of writing a
literature review is synthesis, but what is synthesis? While synthesis is kind of
like a puzzle, it requires you to put together different pieces of research
for multiple sources to form a new picture. Depending on how you organize
the pieces the story you tell will look a little different. The process of
synthesis goes farther than just summarizing sources, or even comparing
and contrasting multiple sources, and beyond even mere critiques of sources.
When synthesizing you are not just direct quoting other authors without
using your own voice, it requires you critically analyze the literature by
determining major themes, strengths, weaknesses, and critical gaps. Ultimately
you engage in synthesis to make your own point, and add to the conversation. As you
read article after article for your literature review, you should start to
see the conversations surrounding your topic. Ask yourself, what are some of the
common themes or subtopics that keep appearing in the articles I’m reading?
Make note of these conversations or main ideas, because this will help you
organize your lit review. Instead of organizing your lit review source by
source, like in an annotated bibliography, synthesis requires you to organize idea
by idea. What is the conversation surrounding the main idea? To really know
that conversation, you need to have looked at it from multiple perspectives,
or sources. You need to evaluate each source, and then ask yourself: how does
each source relate to my research question? Jot down those thoughts as you
go. The sources you choose to include, your analysis, and how you organize them
in a meaningful way, make your literature review unique. This
means you’re developing your own understanding of the literature, and
explicitly stating what it means to your research. A helpful tool you can use to
engage in synthesis is a research matrix, which helps you begin to organize by
idea, and then add your own thoughts as you read articles. If you need help with
your literature review, ask a librarian!

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